26 February 2010

Where America’s Day Begins and Ends

I’ve just concluded a visit to the Vice Province of the Marianna Islands and Hawaii, also known as Our Lady, Star of the Sea. The cynics among you are probably thinking that I deliberately planned the visit for February in order to escape colder, snowier climates. Let me state from the outset, therefore, that just because they are cynical does not mean that they are always wrong!

Agana Heights Friary, GuamA total of twenty friars make up the Vice Province—fourteen on the island of Guam (including Archbishop Anthony Apuron) and six in Hawaii. Seven of the friars are from the mother Province of New York/New England, one is from Hawaii and the rest are from Guam. Although the Vice Province is among the smaller jurisdictions numerically, it is probably the largest geographically; 3,800 miles (6,120 km) separate Guam and Hawaii. Flying from one to the other takes over seven hours. As you can imagine, this presents a formidable challenge to the friars’ ability to get together and to maintain a sense of unity. Furthermore, while Guam and Hawaii have many things in common—a tropical climate, the island mentality of its residents, and a substantial number of Filipino and Pacific Islander immigrants, to name a few—there are also significant differences. The fact that Hawaii is one of the fifty states of the United States and its proximity to the American mainland (it is “only” a five hour flight) means that Hawaii is heavily influenced by the culture of mainland America. Guam, although a territory of the United States since 1898, was first colonized by Spain, and the Spanish influence can still be seen, especially in Guam’s religious devotions. Guam is also more strongly influenced by Asian and Pacific cultures than Hawaii. In fact, the Archdiocese of Guam belongs to the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific. Practically speaking, this means that the church in Hawaii struggles with a lot of the same issues as that of the mainland, such as falling Mass attendance, fallout from sexual abuse scandals, and clergy shortages. The church in Guam is not untouched by these struggles, but it does not experience them quite as strongly. Sunday Mass attendance is still high, and even weekday Masses will have a good attendance. Devotions to the saints, especially St Jude and St Anthony, are also strong.

Hibiscus, the state flower of HawaiiThere are also some significant differences in the experience of the Order on the two islands. The missions in the Marianna Islands was entrusted to the Capuchin Order by the Propaganda Fide so at one time Capuchins “owned” the church on Guam. Until recently, all the parishes on the island had a Capuchin pastor. As the number of secular clergy has grown, both through ordination of local vocations and the borrowing of clergy from other countries, the friars have begun to relinquish parishes to the diocesan clergy and to expand into other ministries, most notably teaching. In Hawaii, on the other hand, the local church was already quite established by the time the first Capuchins began working there. One commonality among the friars of both islands is their diminishing numbers. However, last year’s ordination of an Hawaiian friar, the presence of a Chamorro friar in the NAPCC novitiate, a candidate for next year’s postulancy and several potential future candidates gives hope that the Vice Province will continue to serve the church of Guam and Hawaii for the foreseeable future.